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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Jan. 11, 2007
    Central VA

    Default How to stop overthinking while riding?

    OK, I'm bored at work today so I decided to post about this and see if anyone here has any suggestions.

    I'm a total "over-thinker" about life in general and I also do this when I ride. I'm one of those people that pushes myself to do my best in everything. I don't have any lofty riding goals, don't even want to show anymore. I had a really bad riding accident almost two years ago and broke my back, so that really shook my confidence. I've been back in the saddle for a little over a year, taking lessons, and I'm much more confident now, though I still have my moments. I think my main problem in my lessons lately is that I overthink things. My trainer tells me all the time to "get out of my head".

    How can I "turn off" my brain and get more into "just do it" mode? My body knows what to do, I've been riding since I was a kid, but sometimes I overthink simple things so much (like canter transitions, for example) that I make them 10,000 times harder than they really are.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    May. 15, 2009
    Eastern Ontario, CND


    When I'm thinking too much I start singing to myself (in my head, I'm tone deaf) REALLY loudly. I find it helps allot .
    "For some people it's not enough to just be a horse's bum, you have to be sea biscuit's bum" -anon.
    Nes' Farm Blog ~
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  3. #3
    Join Date
    Dec. 1, 2005


    I am guilty of that as much so that when I have been extremely tense and my trainer tells me to do something - I find myself repeating it verbally instead of actually doing it! The key word for me though is tense. I have to do whatever it takes to calm down and relax...then I can work the horse through whatever needs to be done.

    Try and think it through before you get on the horse - whatever it is that you are currently working - I am learning how to ride sidesaddle for the first time in my life - at the ripe old age of 47! I was so nervous. I was gripping those leaping heads way too tight. After a few lessons I started to visualize myself looking (and feeling) like one of the many many photos I have seen of others riding aside. From the first moment I got on the trainer remarked that I looked so much more relaxed and it was my best lesson yet. That was the day I cantered for the first time too.

    Good luck!

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Dec. 18, 2008
    SE, PA


    Remember why you are riding. Be grateful for thie gift, the privledge and the sheer joy it is to sit on a horse. Be kind to yourself, forgive and forget. Take joy in the "little" things while riding - the friends, the weather, the scenery and most of all, your wonderful horse. Whisper your fears to him, and just enjoy. Blessed Be...
    Our horses know our secrets; we braid our tears into their manes and whisper our hopes into their ears.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Feb. 28, 2006
    The rocky part of KY


    Four years, five really, since I began riding again and I still fret over cantering. Jumping was overwhelming on occasion. More than once I talked myself out of going for a lesson.

    I had to teach myself to mentally relax. I switched disciplines and gave myself permission to start over. Never did it before, couldn't beat myself up over "used to's".

    Focus on anything else as previous posters have said - silly stuff like singing in your head, or how nice they smell and feel and how simply, basically happy you are.
    There are a lot of exercises in meditation to slow down and simplify one's thought. Useful for many situations in life.
    Courageous Weenie Eventer Wannabe
    Incredible Invisible

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Jul. 14, 2006


    Are you my twin???? I have the same problem with overthinking. I also have a history of a bad fall, broken bone, lost confidence and issues with canter transitions.

    You didn't say what you do for a living. I think there are certain jobs where overthinking is not only common but rewarded. I'm thinking about accounting, IT, computer programming, medicine, science, some areas of law--anything where you must deal with a lot of information and do exacting work. I'm in biomedical research. I get paid to think and overthink! Professionally, I deal with a large amount of often conflicting information and spend a lot of time thinking about if I've accounted for all the variables before I do my experiments (so as not to waste my boss's grant money). And when I generate my own data, then I have more to analyze. So, when I get to the barn, it's hard to turn that part of the brain off.

    Ironically, my best rides often come after a really bad day at work, where my brain is too fried to think about much. For example, one of the lesson horses at my barn is "sticky" about taking the right lead and will only do it if you ask just the right way. After a really miserable day, during a lesson in which my instructor said my goal should be just to have fun, I got it on the first try. On a day when I feel happy about life in general, I blow one try after another, and get progressively more frustrated.

    I try focusing on one thing at a time. And counting strides or footfalls in my head seems to help too. I'm also a (very amateur) piano player and I do the same thing when I'm trying to learn a new piece. It's the same problem, really: I need to focus just on the rhythym so my fingers can do their thing without my brain interferring.

    Proudly owned by 2 chestnut mares
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  7. #7
    Join Date
    Apr. 2, 2004
    Louisville, KY


    Try riding with music and singing along. Whether you use an ipod or have the radio on. Make sure its something you like, and don't hesitate to sing along.

    A psychology professor once said "you can tell who doesn't like to be alone with their thoughts. They are the ones walking from class to class with headphones on"

    There is truth to that

    Even if you just do it for a little while, it will re-program your mind to not think so hard.

    It's also helpful to think as you're getting on "Today I"m working on______." that's it. That's your goal, that's what you focus on, and nothing else matters this particular ride.
    Strong promoter of READING the entire post before responding.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Feb. 7, 2007


    Guilty as well. It's very easy to think about what happened yesterday or what could happen if....

    When I get too "thinky" I stop what I'm thinking and yell at myself (and somemtimes it's out loud).

    My motto is: RIDE THE DAMN HORSE.

    Ride what he is giving me at that very moment. Does he need more leg? more bend? Is he going too quick? Is he looking at something he shouldn't? (remember he's not yet spooking so don't think about the possibility of spook - think about the looking), etc.

    Good to know I'm not alone with this!

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Nov. 9, 2005


    when you think you block yourself from expanding the horses mind as he only re-acts to how you act
    so looosen up-------- tense people will be like cardbaord and no give in them so cant be light in the aids - they grip for dim death vice grip

    and then the horse is a git

    so loosen up before you ride - clear mind clear direct signals then the horse wont be confused or gittish

  10. #10
    Join Date
    May. 7, 2004
    Linden, CA


    I like FindersKeepers's response. I also practice "getting out of my head" with some daily meditation. Shutting up the little voices that masquerade as my mind, if only for 15 minutes.

    Making a Change for Good talks about meditation without bombarding the reader with jargon. Or look for something by Jon Kabat-Zinn.
    Quote Originally Posted by HuntrJumpr
    No matter what level of showing you're doing, you are required to have pants on.

  11. #11
    Join Date
    Sep. 21, 2001
    Parker, Colorado



    (nothin' like a good margarita to turn off MY brain!!)
    where are we going, and why am I in this hand basket?

  12. #12
    Join Date
    Jun. 30, 2006
    Middle Tennessee


    I second the Ipod suggestion...

    I went through a period where I couldn't even ride my young horse without stuffing my headphones in my ears and cranking the music up loud.

    It's amazing how much more relaxed both me and my filly are when I have the Ipod turned up. If only I could bring it into the show ring with me...
    Don't fall for a girl who fell for a horse just to be number two in her world... ~EFO

  13. #13
    Join Date
    May. 7, 2008


    Thank you, thank you, thank you - all of you who "overthink". I am so happy to know I am not alone - it's taken a lot for me to be able to leave most of my life in the car when I get to the barn, but I still over think - a lot. I spend much time in practice rides trying to ride one thing at a time, and, as someone else said, deciding to work on one thing and one thing only.

    The good news is that it's working. As an almost 54 year old 4 years young into riding - I am amazed at some things that happen. The other day, during a practice ride, I suddenly realized that the uber experienced knows everything, just ask him, pony (which is why I am riding him - to learn) was right [I]there[I]between my calves - first time I every really felt that and it was wonderful!

  14. #14
    Join Date
    Dec. 19, 2007
    Aldie, VA


    I'm also one who gets yelled at that I "think too much".

    You have to distract yourself to the point where you just "do" instead of "think". Music doesn't do it for me -- it's too easy to tune out.

    What I've found helps -- and many of you will probably not be able to do this unless you have the right boarding situation -- is to ride in an arena when there are other people in there. Enough people that you have to watch what they are doing and where they are.

    Leg yield? No problem when there are people in the arena. I just do it and watch out for them at the same time. Once I get something down pat in an arena full, I can go and do it on my own without thinking about it too much.

    Works for me, anyhow
    Mad Mare™ Studio
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  15. #15
    Join Date
    May. 16, 2008


    Come ride one of my greenies! You don't have time to think!

  16. #16
    Join Date
    Jul. 31, 2007

    Default Another way

    The command, "Don't think!" Is tougher to follow than it sounds. Talk to any meditation guru about "money mind" and you'll see.

    So why not give your brain something to think about? Over-thinking has paid off in spades for me when I decided how to use that trait for good rather than evil.

    Here's all the stuff I can think about.... and try to feel:

    Is my horse off both of my legs?
    Do my sitting bones feel evenly close to my saddle?
    Do my shoulders feel level and evenly forward or back?
    Do I have the same number of pounds of pressure in each hand?

    I can "take inventory" as often or not as I desire when riding. So I have plenty to think about. The way that becomes "not thinking"-- the kind that pleases your yelling instructor-- is when you do it so often that your body starts to relex and make subtle adjustments with minimal effort and delay from you.

    In short, focussed over-thinking can become the pathway to incredible body awareness, control, timing and feel. Make that a long term project and you will have a great way to ride that won't have you wishing you had a different kind of mind.
    The armchair saddler
    Politically Pro-Cat

  17. #17
    Join Date
    Nov. 22, 2003


    Learn meditation. It's ALL ABOUT turning off your mind. A quick fix is to watch an aquarium for 20 minutes. TV shows like Gilligan's Island have the same effect.
    Also recommend Centered Riding. It's about the BODY, not the MIND.
    Last edited by nightsong; Jul. 11, 2009 at 10:14 AM.

  18. #18
    Join Date
    Dec. 9, 2002
    Fort Salonga, NY USA

    Default Guilty

    I am prone to overthinking, and not particularly adept at turning it off. I have learned to focus, as someone else suggested, on BASICS to occupy my mind. Counting strides is a big one. So is concentrating on our bending; that has enough components to it to keep my mind pretty occupied. I also sing (out loud) with my greenie OTTB mare, thankfully (for others) I have a schooling ring at home..

    Here's what someone once told me that, at times, I have had to recite as a mantra:

    "It is easier to ride your way into proper thinking than to think your way into proper riding..."

  19. #19
    Join Date
    May. 27, 2008


    I wish we could all get together and cheer each other on w/ these issues. I had an OTTB that was rushed along, and I ended up w/ him, because I wanted a "bolder horse!" Needless to say, I don't have him anymore. What I did keep out of the situation was the ability to turn into a "soup sandwich." Due to near misses in the jumping phases, he wanted to really go, and I always felt like, "do you even see the jump?" He was not a bad horse, just not for me. I ended up riding a horse who helped me get my confidence back. I did go to a sports psychologist because I really would have panic attacks before stadium rounds. XC was fine-go figure. All I could picture was crashing through poles and falling. For some reason, the ring feels claustrophobic. The psych doctor asked if I'd seen the Star Wars movie, The Empire Strikes Back? Did I remember Obi Won Kenobi telling Luke to "feel the force" while flying a combat mission? For some reason, that really hit home. I now tell myself to feel the force and let go! I'm still a work in progress, but I do feel less like a soup sandwich.

  20. #20
    Join Date
    Dec. 5, 2006


    I too have a mind that takes over. I am one of those people who has a mind that never shuts off. Races all the time. I have always said that my riding parallels my daily life. It is interesting that even though I am a hunter rider, I am ALWAYS in such a HURRY! I have the hardest time slowing things down and taking my time. I am beginning (thanks, Sally Swift) to really pay attention to what my horse FEELS like rather than rely on my trainer (God love her) and not respect my feel. And, it is working.
    Become a Posse and help keep kids on horses and off the streets.

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